“I’m not out to change the world,” advises Steely to the world via her website – just as well on the basis of this album. They say don’t judge a book by its cover, and with books, that’s a fair point, but albums are pitched at audiences, and it is possible to make some value judgements before you get to hear the album itself.
So, looking at the sleeve for the Mood Shifts album, you get an idea of what’s coming. The photograph shows a pleasant young woman, nothing striking, not an image that burns itself on your psyche. The notes give credit first of all to “my lord and saviour” and you begin to get the picture.
There is nothing wrong with presenting a pleasant unthreatening image to the world, and nothing wrong in acknowledging a faith as inspiration, but it does tend to peg your approach in advance to anyone checking this album on spec.
The third song in, "Ocean In A Paper Cup." is a further pointer to the sound of this album – it’s what you’d expect from the evidence so far. It’s interesting that the tracks do seem to merge seamlessly into each other, with no edges, no highs or lows, just basic cod-hippy philosophy words with smooth pop-by-numbers tunes to hang them on.
Song four, "Stone Cold," is as near to radical as this album comes. It might make you check to see if the lyrics are on the sleeve – they’re not – but the album quickly over-compensates for this blip in the urgency factor by following with a saccharine ditty called "Amazing," which is every bit as bad as you’d imagine given the way this experience is taking shape.
There’s nothing wrong with this collection of songs – and that’s just the problem. There’s nothing right with it either, because there’s just nothing to grab hold of. The closest comparison in terms of structure, appeal, and probably audience, is Mariah Carey, and Steely would be more than delighted to think she might catch a percentage of the pop diva’s massive sales figures.
This is music for people who want things to be smooth and relaxing, people who want to unwind with a glass of wine, maybe listening in the bath with some scented candles, and a good book, and if that’s the reason why you listen, this may be the album for you. You’ll need to program a skip past "Simple Girl" which might jar the mood with its treated clap-along beat and distorted vocal. Steely asks if it’s ok to “e a simple girl”? On the basis of this album, it is. If you define ‘simple’ as the opposite of ‘complicated,’ then this album is right on the money.
You might want to give "Fair Share" a miss as well – it tries to be rocky and tough, an independent woman telling it like it is, with some wah-wahed guitar and kicking drums to prove she means it. Does it work? Well no, because it’s pretend rocking – it’s grunge for people who think grunge is wearing woolly hat. So, if you’re looking for an aural equivalent of a bad Chinese meal – half an hour after you’ve finished it, you won’t remember a thing about it – then this is for you. If you like music as an accompaniment to anything, but never to be enjoyed for its own sake, then this is an album that will suit you fine.
If you want a woman to sing to you with passion, meaning, and a genuine feeling that she knows what she’s talking about, check out Dido, or Blondie, or Elastica, or all of them. There is certainly a market for this kind of music; it just doesn’t belong in the collection of anyone who takes music seriously. Steely by name … er …that’s it.